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A Brief History of the Workers' Solidarity Alliance

category north america / mexico | anarchist movement | review author Sunday August 07, 2005 13:52author by Mitch - email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address 339 Lafayette Street - Room 202, NY NY 10012 Report this post to the editors

I am submiting this in part, as historical backgound, to help understand the origins of a part of the US anarchist movement. Quite a few of us continue adhere to the traditional principles of anarcho-communism, while also adhering to the best traditions of anarcho-syndicalism as well.

In part the anarchist communist movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s in the US and Canada was very much a twining of anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism. Our initial efforst were a clear break with "counter-culturalism", non-class struggle and and anti-organizational anarchism.

This was best expressed in the formation of the Anarchist-Communist Federation of North America (ACF, 1978 to 1982.Aims and Principles: ).

I hope in the near future to write an article on one participants view of the ACF. But for now, please accept this article.

I am submiting this in part, as historical backgound, to help understand the origins of a part of the US anarchist movement. Quite a few of us continue adhere to the traditional principles of anarcho-communism, while also adhering to the best traditions of anarcho-syndicalism as well.

In part the anarchist communist movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s in the US and Canada was very much a twining of anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism. Our initial efforst were a clear break with "counter-culturalism", non-class struggle and and anti-organizational anarchism.

This was best expressed in the formation of the Anarchist-Communist Federation of North America (ACF, 1978 to 1982.Aims and Principles: ).

I hope in the near future to write an article on one participants view of the ACF. But for now, please accept this article.

The W.S.A.'s Origins

Some members of the WSA can trace their roots to the 1974 effort to establish an
anarcho-syndicalist "Committee of correspondence for an anarcho-syndicalist liaison group". In
their June 2, 1974 circular the Committee established its basic approach to moving forward. The
Committee was to be the "clear expression of syndicalist principles in the face of 'do your own
thing' anarchist movement drifting away from [the] class struggle'." We, therefore, wanted to
clearly establish an organization that was both structured and accountable. Another aim of the
Committee was to form a US Section of the International Workers Association (IWA).

Although the Committee effort did not immediately succeed, new contacts were made and a new and
mainly younger generation of anarcho-syndicalists began to come together. Further contacts and
networks were also established through involvement in the Anarchist Communist Federation of
North America (ACF, 1978-1981), the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and various workplace
campaigns. Many of the founding members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance met and worked
together during this time.

In 1978 the New York City based Libertarian Workers Group (now NY-NJ WSA) affiliated to the IWA.
Soon to follow was the Syndicalist Alliance (SA) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to the
former IWA Secretary General Fidel Gorron Canoyra, we became the "first [US] IWA section in the
history of the IWA."

While a formal "national" anarcho-syndicalist organization was not formed until 1984, a network
of anarcho-syndicalists decided began to work together. By 1981 we came together to publish an
explicitly anarcho-syndicalist magazine titled "ideas & action". "ideas & action" later went on
to become the magazine of the WSA.

Also during this period we worked with like-minded folks on the US and Canadian newspaper
"Strike!" and the informal network publishing it. The informal "Strike!" network also engaged in
some activities aside from publishing the paper. These mainly consisted of various solidarity
campaigns in the US, Canada and abroad. Our internationalism has always been strong and we
engaged in many internationalist activities.

During this time period, many Latin American countries were under US supported military
dictatorships. A number of these countries also had a rich tradition of anarchist or
anarcho-syndicalist activity as well. Given our own proximity to Latin America, we cooperatively
set up the Libertarian Aid to Latin American Workers (LALAW) committees with others in the
"Strike!" network. Our various LALAW committees worked on a number of campaigns and published an
impressive journal "No Middle Ground".

Additionally some of our members, mainly in the New York area, were also engaged in activities
in support of the underground struggles of workers to establish independent unions in the former
"socialist" East Europe, as well a trying to organize the Needle Trades Workers Action Committee
of rank-and-file workers. Members in West Virginia were particularly focused on the coal
industry and rising unemployment and its effects on the rural coal mining communities.
Californian members were active with publishing tasks, community activities and workplace
outreach and activity mainly in the emerging high tech sector. [It is also worthwhile noting
that it was the WSA that first made contact with the anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in
Nigeria and recently donated it the equipment to set up its own radio station in Enugu! So the
WSA's internationalism has had a strong African connection, too - note by ZACF international

During this time period, the main areas of network activity consisted of distributing various
informational leaflets, newsletters, newspaper and magazine ("On The Line" in NYC, "Strike!" and
"ideas & action"), and solidarity activities. Network participants were also involved in their
workplaces, labor unions, on picket lines and in various social issues and student movements.
Particular attention and focus was also given to anti-militarist and anti-nuclear power and
weapons struggles as well.

These events bring us to the period preceding the formation of the W.S.A. in November 1984.

A Brief History of the W.S.A.

2004 marked the 20th anniversary of the W.S.A. Never a large organization, we have always made up for it in spirit.

Originally a network of anarcho-syndicalistsand class struggle anti-authoritarians in the early
1980s. The network included the magazine "ideas & action", began in 1981, and the Libertarian
Workers Group organized in New York City in the 1970s.

It was flexible in its approach to workplace organizing, which was integrated into the WSA when
it was founded in New York City in November 1984. Identifying with the syndicalist tradition,
the WSA affiliated with the International Workers Association in 1984 - until recently. However,
the WSA continues to be sympathetic to the traditions and Principles of the IWA.

Although the WSA's main strategic focus is on the labor movement, the WSA also believes that a
working class-based movement needs to be broadly based in working class communities, not just in
the workplaces, and that the movement needs to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, and internationalist
in character. These concerns are expressed in the WSA's "Where We Stand" statement developed in
the 1980s.

Surely the WSA can not claim credit for the adaptation of other workers' organizations
alternative approaches to workplace and community organizing. On the other hand, we have seen
others draw similar conclusions as we have in developing a variety of alternative and
self-managed movements and ideas. Many very similar to the ideas we envision and have been
advocating for. Examples of this can be seen in the growth of workers centers; the concept of
"solidarity unionism"; "flying picket squads"; independent organizing against sweatshop
conditions and other forms of workers themselves organizing on their own and in their own name.

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author by Andrew - Anarkismopublication date Fri Aug 12, 2005 22:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for posting this - its important to record the history of the anarchist movement even or perhaps especially with projects whose outcome was mixed.

It would be very interesting to see a more fleshed out version of this that included a discussion of key initatives that must have been taken over the years and a critical evaluation of these. This could provide a useful starting point for those who are getting active now - and a way of avoiding the tendancy of each generation having to reinvent the wheel.

author by Mitchpublication date Sat Aug 13, 2005 13:15author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

At some point I hope to do a few different in-depth articles. I'm in the process of tryiong to get it together (mainly time constraints and a lousy writing style) to write an article on the US & Canadian ACF. I've promised the NEFAC comradse I'd take a stab at it. It will get done!

In the meanwhile, if there are specific questions I might be able to answer, bot on thi list or off list, please feel free to email me. I'll be happy to share whatever thoughts or experiances with others.

author by Jamespublication date Sat Aug 20, 2005 11:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What are the main differences between Nefac and the WSA? And any other of the organisations in your neck of the woods. Are the WSA more intent on promoting explictly anarchist-syndicalist unions? If so is that a sizable difference in the here and now? Would there be much practical contact between members of both organisations?

author by Nicolas Phébus - NEFACpublication date Sun Aug 21, 2005 22:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Practicaly, in the day to day class struggle, I dont think there is a big difference between NEFAC and the WSA. The main difference I see is that the WSA is an anarcho-syndicalist formation (used to be a member of the IWA) while NEFAC is an anarcho-communist group. There's also a difference in the fact that NEFAC is more ideologicaly orthodox while WSA people are looking at different traditions (see the debate over PARECON for exemple). Otherwise, there are generational and organisational differences (WSA folks are generaly older, are less numerous and more geographicaly widespread).

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author by MaRK - NEFACpublication date Tue Aug 23, 2005 01:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yeah, honestly I don't think the differences in the day-to-day work or outlook of our respective groups is all that different. I am critical of orthodox anarcho-syndicalism as a viable strategy for anarchists, at least at this stage of class struggle (particularly in North America), but I think the general approach of the WSA to labor struggles, unions, etc. is fairly open and non-dogmatic, and pretty much in line with NEFAC in this area. Along with NAF, they are probably the group we are closest with these days.

That said, they are a group with their own identity and history, and have members throughout the United States (NEFAC is only based in the northeast, and we have members in US and Canada), so it is unlikely we would simply combine forces as one organization... at least not in the forseeable future.


author by mitchpublication date Tue Aug 23, 2005 13:20author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi folks,

I'll be out of commission for a few days and would love to reply to the questions and comments concerning the WSA.

For a moment I'll say that WSA has never saw itself as a union. We've always acted as an anarcho-syndicalist (read class struggle anarchist) propaganda and solidarity organization.

WSA has always promoted a wide variety and range of tactics and strategies. We believe, as comrades in NEFAC do, that the class struggle will take a variety of forms and that we should be part of those forms and to help push and develop the libertarian content of those forms.

I would say that WSA has always been unique in a variety of ways. While the basic points of agrement, aside of the WSA "where We Stand", have been the IWA's "Principles of Revoutionary Syndicalism", we never closed closed our ears to what others had to say. So we really never have fit into any one box particularly very neatly.

The WSA's views have always been pretty pluarlistic and we have always seen ourselves as agaitating class struggle ideas, both on and off the job.

The WSA "Where We Stand" is slowly being rewritten, having been written only once in the 1980s. But folks should view the site: to get a flavor for the WSA's starting point.

While we are not "platformists", we have always respected and liked the comrades from the WSM. And we hope that the feelings have been mutual.

While the WSA and WSM may not always agree on every point or even trace our traditions from every spoke on the anarchist wheel, we have never had any problems cooperating with the WSM on mutual campaigns (mainly around the Awareness League in Nigeria) or other worker solidarity campaigns. So we believe that comrades can have real and principled differences, yet still talk with each and cooperate in meaningful ways.

Until recent times, anarcho-syndicalism has been the "rallying point" for specifically class struggle anarchists. I would venture to say that up until the mid-1990s anarcho-syndicalism was "the pole" for worldwide of class struggle anarchists.This has changed quite a bit since the very late 1990s and early 2000s for a variety of reasons.

I think it's fair to say that WSA comrades are interested in cooperating and working with other militants.

I'll rejoin the conversation later. I just wanted to at least say hello and add a little something.

author by Tom Wetzel - WSApublication date Tue Aug 23, 2005 14:47author email tomwetzel at riseup dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I will mention a couple of additional points from my
own perspective. Like Mitch, I was a founder of
WSA. The WSA's "Where We Stand" statement
never uses words like "anarchism", "sociialism" or
"communism". This was quite conscious. I think
these words are not useful for clear
communication of our ideas to ordinary folks these days in the U.S.

I think a hole in that statement, however, is that we
failed to explain our organizational self-conception.
I personally think that what we tried to do was to
form a revolutionary left-libertarian political
organization. Ideally it would be an organization of
rank and file activists and organizers, rooted in
actual struggles and working class communities.
Anarchists, in my observation, often fail to
appreciate the importance of helping to build a
social base for our ideas in working class
communities. I don't think we succeeded in
becoming quite the organization that I think is
needed, if only because we never had enough
people. But I also think we could have been
clearer at the outset about this organizational
self-concept. Some anarcho-syndicalists are
opposed to a political organization on the grounds
that its relationship to the mass of working people
must then be "vanguardist." We don't agree with
that. A non-vanguardist approach means that the
activists aim to develop capacity and control and
sharing of knowledge among the rank and file, to
develop their capacity to run their own movements,
not concentrate expertise and control into the
hands of the "vanguard."

WSA is organized on the basis of indidividual
membership. We adopted this because of the
many individuals we have had -- a dispersed
membership. I think we should have also required
that any individual who joins in an area where we
have a group must be approved by that gruop.
Failing to do this was one of the things that set us
up for the entryist maneuver of a group that tried to
capture WSA in the late '90s.

Where we ARE libertarian syndicalist is in our
strategic commitment. Our central strategy is the
development of self-managed mass organizations
rooted in struggles in working class communities.
Although our main focus has been on
organizations in workplace struggles, we also
recognize the importance of struggles outside the
workplace. My own main activity has been in transit
rider and housing/anti-gentrification struggles in
recent years.

We also believe that the struggle isn't just a class
struggle but that there are struggles against
non-class forms of oppression, racism and
patriarchy, and these can be an aspect of both
struggles in workplaces and in the community.
Although we have made efforts to develop rank
and file opposition movements in AFL-CIO unions,
we have also sometimes organized workers into
AFL unions, in situations where that was the most
viable tactic. There are some situations where
there really isn't any other practical alternative.

But we believe that we need to have tactics and
strategy to change the labor movement towards
rank and file self-management of its struggles &
organizations. In keeping with this, we have also
placed an emphasis on supporting more
grassroots and independent forms of worker
organization such as independent unions or
worker centers. Developing a mass movement
that is self-managing is part of the process of the
working class coming to have the capacity to
revolutionize society.

The WSA was never communist , that is, there are
individual members of WSA who consider
themselves to be anarchist-communists, but we
never had a consensus on that. I personaly
think a moneyless gift economy wouldn't work.
That's my personal opinion.

Unlike some anarchists, I think we generally
presuppose the three-class analysis of
capitalism, that in addition to labor and capital,
there is a third technocratic or managerial or
coordinator class (whatever you want to call it).
This is important in understanding the nature of
the "Communist" countries. They aren't capitalist
but a technocratic or managerialist mode of
production. We need a program to ensure that a
technocratic ruling class does not get
consolidated in a revolution.

I personally think WSA's affiliation to the IWA was a
mistake. I think I didn't appreciate back in the '80s
how main IWA groups were committed to the
conception of a highly ideologized union -- an
approach that the WSA rejects.

Tom Wetzel

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author by Syndicalist - W.S.A.publication date Mon Sep 15, 2014 08:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

W.S.A. Celebrates 30 years of struggle!

Intro. note: This is a personal posting. So I am responsible for content and use of lyrics.

On November 24th the Workers Solidarity Alliance will celebrate it's 30th Anniversary.

The road to freedom is never easy, often times filled with obstacles. Keep on traveling, keep on struggling. Freedom will always be the goal.

Remembering the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly.

Happy Birthday W.S.A.

From this ole anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist-communist salt

" It seems like yesterday
But it was long ago
We were young and strong, we were runnin'
Against the wind

The years rolled slowly past
There were oh so many roads
Still runnin'
… still runnin' against the wind
….. still runnin'
I'm still runnin' against the wind
Still runnin'
Let the cowboys ride
They'll be ridin' against the wind
Against the wind ... "

From “Against the Wind” by Bob Seeger

author by Syndicalist - W.S.A.publication date Mon Sep 15, 2014 08:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

November 2014, W.S.A. Celebrates 30 years!

30 years on, a bit battered and weathered, the same spirit still exists....
Join us the carrying on the intent and spirit of building a specific anarcho-syndicalist organization here in the United States.....

"A new organization, the Workers Solidarity Alliance, emerged from the conference with two principle goals. Although it is not itself a union, the primary purpose of the new group will be to promote and contribute to autonomous workers’ struggle founded on the Anarchist principles of direct democracy and direct action. ..., the new organization will work towards solidarity with other sections of the Anarchist workers movement. Workers Solidarity differs from previous attempts at a U.S. libertarian workers’ organization in being a formation in which individuals may belong and participate, rather than a federation of local groups. Given that working class Anarchist militants are numerically few and geographically scattered, it is expected that this new form will help overcome the isolation that has lately characterize our efforts."

STRIKE!, February 1985, Page 4
“WSA holds founding conference in NYC: The Return of the Anarcho-Syndicalists”

author by Syndicalist - WSApublication date Sun Sep 28, 2014 03:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Slowly thumbing thought WSA papers, jotting notes, thinking about how to organize these and write a small history of WSA. In doing so I reread my opening comments to the WSA founding November 1984 Conference.

Win, lose or draw, I found these comments to be as true today as they were near 30 years ago:


"In closing, let me just say that we are at an exciting crossroad. We are taking on a project that has not been taken on in recent memory. Whether we succeed or fail only time will tell. Let us not, however, be afraid of taking chances. Let us show that we can be a viable place for libertarian working class politics within revolutionary movements. And, finally, let us find warmth, friendship and solidarity in the organization we choose to build..."

author by Alexander Selkirk - None at presentpublication date Fri Mar 30, 2018 00:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

How nice that the authors go to such length to call attention to the 30-plus year long existence of the Workers Solidarity Alliance -- but give no evidence that this group has done anything in the 30-plus year period to justify its existence. If the politics on display here were a going concern, we would see:

1. Accounts in some detail of actual working class social struggles the W.S.A. has been involved in -- and more importantly, what their particular version of anti-capitalist politics brought to this that isn't already found in sufficient form with other leftists,

2. And what distinguishes their involvement from the same thing as done by Trotskyists, other fans of Lenin, or plain and simple trade union-oriented left-liberals.

Instead we get:

1. We've existed for more than 30 years,

2. These are the nebulous niceties that we stalwartly believe in.

Like the empty organizational shell of Ye Olde IWW, it appears that after 30 years the main struggle of the W.S.A. is a struggle to find a reason to exist. In practice their politics don't seem to have gone anywhere outside of a very small number of ever more venerable anachro-syndicalist role playing guys, and their response to this is to make it clear that they are more afraid of surprises than anything else. Mass collective working class direct action against capitalist exploitation is more necessary than ever, and in the United States the conditions that give rise to this grow more promising by the day. For obvious reasons, the partisans of the W.S.A. are unable to even begin to make a case for their role in this.

Against wage labor and the market,

Alex Selkirk

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